The Crone from Ipswich

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Sarah has a strange encounter on a cold and foggy night.

Submitted: June 16, 2017

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Submitted: June 16, 2017

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Sarah had two jobs, in the mornings starting at 4:30 cleaning Mr. Travis’ office complex and at night she worked in one of those fast-food joints and was lucky if she finished before 1:30 in the morning. She was just sixteen and worked hard to support her ailing mother who had been sick for as long as she could remember. Recently the poor woman started coughing blood, which concerned Sarah massively.

When she left from the rear door of the fast-food factory, there was no moon and a low fog hugged the damp, brown flag-stones. She trod the dimly-lit lane that lead to Simon’s Street where there was a light she could stand under to try hailing a taxi. Almost halfway to that light, she heard a sound. A rat? No… She caught her breath, every sense alert, with the knowledge the city could be a dangerous place! She paused trying to peer through the dimness. There it was again! A muffled sound came from beside the outline of a rubbish skip.

Suddenly there was a bright light, like someone opening the door of a brightly lit house! There was a brief glimpse of a shape, but in a breath the light was gone. Sarah stood, prepared to run in any direction to safety, eyes wide! The traffic noise of the city was silenced and the girl was unaware of the passage of time. There came unintelligible words, a string of them and then a yellow flash, with sparks and a smell of sulphur. Immediately Sarah had in mind that it was some magician’s trick.

‘Your hocus-pocus trick doesn’t scare me!’ She called softly, but it did! While fight or flight were her options, she only considered fight, which was due to her upbringing. Still, she stood there unmoving because it took a while for her eyes to adjust after those flashes of light. The shape before her gradually materialised to an old, bent woman with a grey shawl covering her head. She carried a staff with her that was as tall as she. To Sarah she looked very old and a little odd.

‘I mean ye no harm, poplolly, I mean ye no harm.’ The crone’s voice was soft and motherly, with a strange accent.

‘Why did you try to frighten me with your silly magic then?’ Sarah felt defiant, placed her hands on hips arms wide to give her bulk.

‘I be rueful for that.’ The crone apologised, ‘I came for the murk.’

‘Murk?’ Questioned Sarah, but realised. ‘Oh the fog. You don’t want to be seen. Why not?’

‘I’m nay tellin’ ye.’ The old woman replied and set her mouth firmly. ‘Is secret.’ She added.

‘Well, I can help you,’ offered Sarah, ‘or call for people to come, perhaps the police.’

‘Police?’ The crone didn’t know the word. ‘Nay, nay don’t call ‘em, I’ll tell ye if ye keep me sush-hush.’

‘Hush-hush.’ Sarah corrected. ‘I won’t tell anyone if that’s what you’re afraid of.’

‘I’ll tell ye when ye take us to the arbor.’ The crone replied.

 ‘Arbor?’ Sarah thought and then realised. ‘There’s a park across the road and there are trees!’

‘I needs the tree nuts.’ Sarah realised she must mean acorns. 

The fog was thick and damp, luckily there were only a few cars on the road. The crone was afraid of them, but it seemed to Sarah that she had been there before. Once across and among the oak trees, the crone pulled a stone from out of her bag and intoned a spell that brought light to it. It was easily as bright as a flashlight. The pickings were sparse because the squirrels had taken most. Sarah saved the old woman’s back by picking the good ones, which the crone secreted in a bag. While the gathering was happening the crone told her story:

She lived in a town called Ipswich, under a King called ‘Edward’. Her name was Ivy, but everyone called her ‘Healer’. She spent her days collecting herbs and concocting potions for the sick and administering to them. One day in a forest glade a huge, thunderous, glowing garuda-thing appeared before her eyes! After she had cleared the dust and smoke from her eyes a small, woman with fish-eyes, or maybe it was a god, stood before her. Somehow the woman (or god) knew her thoughts as she her’s! The stranger knew Ivy was a healer any wanted to give a gift. She took several acorns from the crone’s bag and set them on a rock. She sprinkled a little powder on them and Ivy knew that in a week a green mould would grow on them. After a moon, she should return and harvest the mould, dry it and mix it with water ‘to heal those who can’t be healed’.

Within the glade the woman (or god) set three round pieces of shining iron, in a triangle three paces apart. She told the crone to stand in the centre when the sun is at its highest, and then she can step into one of three different places, through a ‘rift’, she said. To return she must go to the exact place, and a doorway will always open. The places the rift takes her to are strange, different times, different lands. The woman (or god) said to keep the secret but to share ‘with one who helps’. The word she used was a ‘rift’ but the crone understood it only as a doorway.

‘Were did the woman come from?’ Asked a disbelieving Sarah.

‘When the murk is gone,’ the crone replied pointing upwards, ‘there are three stars in a row, one of them smaller, it is there.

‘Could it be Orion’s Belt…?’ It was just a thought, Sarah shrugged it off.

The crone said she has three collection places to go to for the nuts because in her home place of Ipswich the squirrels and jays take most of them. When she has but four jars of the dried mould left, she goes on a quest for more acorns. It frightens her though! This is the first she has been seen! As she ages, she becomes more frightened in those strange places she. She offered Sarah training in herbalism, and a place beside her back in Ipswich, she though Sarah was a brave poplolly.

‘I can’t,’ explained Sarah, ‘I have my mother to think of, she is very sick. She needs me.’

The old woman understood and with a smile reached into her bag and brought out a leather sachet of her dried, green fungus.

‘Mix this in a cup of water,’ she told the girl, ‘It makes a powerful brew. Have your mother drink it all down. Now ye can take me back from whence I came.’

Sarah took Ivy’s arm, guiding her through the gloom to the dumpster. Without looking back, she passed into the light.

Did she hear, ‘I’ll be back for ye.’?

Not sure what to make of her experience, Sarah found her mother to be worse than when she had left her that afternoon. There were no chemist shops open at that hour so in desperation and not totally believing, she prepared the concoction as the crone had instructed. Sarah sat in the chair beside her mother’s bed to watch over her. Exhaustion caused her to doze off and she woke to find her mother much stronger, she had stopped coughing and there was colour in her cheeks. Sarah smiled at her.  


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